Informed Sources: First-class seat, second-class service

Wanderlust Readers
November 24, 1997 2:11PM (UTC)

Last week's letter from a woman executive complaining about discriminatory treatment in the first-class section of an airline apparently struck a chord: Numerous readers -- men as well as women -- wrote to agree that sexist service is a problem on many airlines. Below are three of the letters we received. Because of the interest this topic evoked, we're going to investigate it further. Look for a more extensive report in an upcoming Road Warrior. And if you have a tale or observation about onboard sexism that you'd like to send our way, please e-mail it to
But first let's take a look at this week's query:

I've started to encounter a problem in hotels with phone billing, and I'm
wondering whether it's a widespread problem. When I make a long-distance call, the phone companies bill me even when I am not
connected. I usually call home every evening when traveling, but I hang up before my voice mail ever picks up the call. However, these calls are always on my bill when I check out of the hotel.


The automated billing equipment kicks in, so I'm told, as soon as you dial a number. And nothing can be done except to go through your bill and have those calls removed when you check out. While the hotel staff has always removed these charges once I've asked them to, I find it irritating that in this day and age of modern
technology the software can't actually tell whether someone picked up the
phone or not. If I'm pressed for time when checking out I don't really want the
hassle of verifying all my calls.

Any advice?



Is there an easier way to avoid getting billed for phone calls that never connect? Send your answers to We'll pass them along next week!

Last week's query:

I would like to address the subject of sexism on major airlines. I fly
a great deal; my usual business trip takes me from Atlanta to New
York and back, usually on the same day. Because I am an officer in
my company, I fly first class. As a female, I am usually in the
minority in the first class section of the plane. In the past three
years, I have encountered the rudest, most blatantly hostile
treatment from, ironically, female flight attendants. I have been
asked to show my seat assignment, while the men around me are
asked what they would like to drink. I have been told to put my coat
in the overhead compartment while my male counterpart's coat is
hung up. On one particular occasion, while returning from a
Metropolitan Museum meeting lugging four portfolios, I asked the
flight attendant for a hand -- she refused and simply stared at me in
utter disgust. I have heard similar stories from my colleagues and
friends. Is this common? What action, if any, do readers
recommend? Thanks for the vent.



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I read Elizabeth O'Dowd's article on second-class service with unfortunate
recognition. I am not as frequent a flier as Ms. O'Dowd, but I have been
treated with rude indifference. Although this was by the female
staff, that may be because the flights I have taken have a far greater
number of female flight attendants. I have noticed that the men traveling
around me get served faster and more often. In first class, I even had to
ask for a meal while my fellow male travelers were given meals and plied
with drinks. Any request, even for things given to male counterparts, is
met with animosity. Since I am younger than most of the air crew, I
sometimes take this as resentment.


I do not demand much from the staff -- I usually mind my own business by reading a magazine. However, I demand to be treated in a
professional and equal manner. I'm not an air warrior but I usually take four
or five flights a year. Since most of my flights are international, my
solution is to take a foreign airline when I can. I find British Airways to be
far more open to female travelers and I feel I can be assured of professional
service on BA. Until airlines change their attitudes toward female passengers,
many of us will make our travel plans accordingly.


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I am so happy to see this topic raised!

As a female professional working in financial services, I sometimes travel internationally using first- and business-class
services. Female cabin crew members on
the major U.S. carriers are, almost without fail, incredibly neglectful,
if not downright hostile and rude, toward me, particularly in comparison to the way they absolutely fawn over the male passengers.

I am a fairly low-maintenance traveler and do not require much
solicitude, nor am I difficult to satisfy with the normal amount of
attention and courtesy; for me it's mostly a game to observe the myriad of ways in
which women passengers in the "upper classes" are slighted by their


I should add that this behavior was never a problem with Virgin,
Singapore, Cathay or British Air, but was REGULAR at the hands of
United and sometimes Continental. I am not carrying on a vendetta against United -- I actually have a family member who is a United flight attendant, which is all the more reason to
regret the bad experiences I've had.


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In regard to Elizabeth O'Dowd's complaint, I recommend taking names and writing very specific letters to management, detailing exactly
what happened. Stay calm and polite as you request the flight attendant's
name -- and let her see you writing it down. You'll be amazed how many will
turn sweet-as-mother's-love in hopes you'll decide not to write something
that can be inserted in their master file.
Good luck.



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